Back in the early days of free jazz improvisation many musicians who chose to play multiple instruments were singled out as scapegoats by critics interested in discrediting the music. The logic (or illogic) behind these naysayers’ arguments posited that a division of energy and focus between instruments would necessarily result in decreased proficiency. Many of the music’s detractors claimed that the new sounds being explored by these musicians were the direct result of such assumed deficiency. Legends like Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy were among the players who came under repeated fire and if Joe McPhee had been counted in their number no doubt he too would have suffered similar slings and arrows. Like Kirk and Dolphy, McPhee’s palette is filled with a diversity of instruments, and his towering abilities on each become readily apparent to the serious listener.
That being said, those looking for evidence of McPhee’s multi-instrumental prowess will be surprised by this disc. McPhee eschews his usual satchel of reeds and brass and concentrates only on saxophone. “Elegy” is an opening summons for solo bass, brief in duration, but long on ideas. Duval carries his improvisation into the lengthy and radical reading of the old spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing” blending together with Herlein’s piercing violin in a mutual display of high string harmonics. Similar harmonic artifices are employed during a duet between McPhee’s horn and Herlein’s wailing voice. Later violin and amplified bass sheathed in electronic overtones engage in still another conversation, elaborated by cascading cymbals and sulfurous sax. Rosen’s innumerable percussive inventions provide the propulsive undercurrent that prevents the music from flagging in its own intricacies. Herlien is definitely the wild card here and her contributions take Trio X in directions previously unexplored by these three masters of the unexpected. The piece expands and contracts with glorious uncertainty for nearly fifty minutes and the three find a staggering variety of ways to interact across its duration. The far shorter “Rapture” is an extended exercise in whistling microtones.
Though the session was recorded live at the Knitting Factory, the audience in attendance is strangely absent for most of the piece only choosing to erupt boisterously at the close. This disc is easily recommended to both long time McPhee fans and neophytes interested in learning what all the excitement surrounding the man is really about. It could also serve as a final nail in the coffin for those fusty critics mentioned earlier who argued so adamantly against the merits of mulit-instrumentalism.
Track Listing: Elegy: Upon Mourning, Lift Every Voice and Sing, Rapture.
Recorded: December 28, 1998, The Knitting Factory, New York City, NY.
Available through Cadence/NorthCountry Distributors (www.cadencebuilding.com)
Personnel: Joe McPhee- saxophone, Jay Rosen- drums, Dominic Duval- double bass, live electronics, Rosi Hertlein- violin, voice.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.